At least seven persons died on Election Day as an official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Monday poll-related violence in Mindanao remains relatively lower compared to previous elections.
Three security guards were killed in Maguindanao when gunmen opened fire at a polling station, police said, as millions of Filipinos voted in the national elections.
Another person died in a shooting incident inside a voting center in Malabang, Lanao Del Sur, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala.
Three armed men were also killed in the brief exchange of gunfire with the Philippine Navy’s locally stationed Marines elements outside a school also in Malabang, authorities said.
Elections are a traditionally volatile time in a country with lax gun laws and a violent political culture, but police said this season had been comparatively peaceful.
Also in Lanao del Sur, some vote-counting machines (VCMs) were destroyed, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said, as it awaited police reports to confirm the incidents.
This was on top of reports of up to 2,000 VCMs malfunctioning for various reasons across the country (see related story on A1–Editors).
Meanwhile, two former police officers and two farmers were arrested after they allegedly carried illegal firearms in separate police operations in Hilongos, Leyte and Pintuyan, Southern Leyte on Monday.
Police Regional Office 8 director Brigadier General Bernard Banac identified the former policemen as Julius Caesar Yadao, 50, and Slazenger Cadavis, 47, both residents of Tacloban City.
The two farmers were identified as Alejandro Manongsong, 57, and Donald Felicilda, 49, both from Pintuyan town.
“Again, I urge the public to be observant in your communities for the presence of these lawless elements and relay it to authorities for the apprehension of such criminals for the immediate action of our personnel for safe and peaceful national and local elections 2022,” Banac said.
As of Sunday, there had been 16 “validated election-related incidents” since January 9, including four shootings, said PNP spokesman Police Brig. Gen. Roderick Alba.
That compares with 133 incidents during the 2016 presidential elections.
The deadly shooting in Maguindanao happened shortly after voting got underway in Buluan on the island of Mindanao, a haven for multiple armed groups ranging from the private armies of warlord-politicians to communist insurgents and Islamist militants.
A fourth guard was wounded in the attack, said Maguindanao provincial police spokesman Major Roldan Kuntong.
Former mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu told Agence-France Presse that people inside the school being used as a polling station ran for cover when the shooting started.
In Lanao del Sur, gunmen attacked a polling station, leaving one voter dead and two wounded, police said.
That came after five grenades exploded outside a polling station in Datu Unsay municipality in Maguindanao late Sunday that left nine people wounded.
In Malabang, former House Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong told the Manila Standard he and his brother, Malabang mayoral candidate Dagar Balindong, had just exited the gate of the school on board an SUV.
This was when the armed men opened fire at the school grounds, apparently in a bid to halt the voting so authorities may declare a failure of elections.
Balindong, the incumbent speaker of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA), said he could be the primary target of the shooting that occurred at around 11 a.m., after he and his brother Dagar had cast their votes at a polling precinct at the school.
Dagar Balindong is a local candidate of the Lakas-Muslim Christian Democrats.
In Buluan, four members of the local Barangay Patrol Action Team (BPAT), were shot dead as they tried to manage early queues to polling precincts in the town center.
At about 9:30 a.m. Assemblyman Khadafeh Mangudadatu went live on Facebook, saying he and mayor wife Jihan Mamalinta Mangudadatu of Pandag town were ambushed, and that two of their companions were hit as they traversed an interior road to Pandag.
Mangudadatu was quick to blame unnamed supporters of incumbent Maguindanao Governor Mariam Mangudadatu for both incidents. The governor could not be reached for comment at press time.
Police said the victims in Maguindanao had walked from their remote mountain villages to cast their votes at the municipal hall when polling stations opened across the country on Monday morning.
“It is their custom to come down early from their villages, which are located eight to 12 hours away on foot,” said Kuntong.
In a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City, PNP Directorate for Operations chief Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon said 100 percent of the polling precincts in Mindanao have functioned.
De Leon said they are validating reports of poll-related violence.
“There are people reporting about this and they are blowing [this] out of proportion. That is why we are validating this so we can confirm this first-hand,” he said.
The PNP had monitored 73 total reported incidents of election-related violence, Fajardo said, with only 16 of them confirmed.
Five of the validated reports of election-related incidents were from Central Luzon, four each from Ilocos and Zamboanga, two from Cordillera, and one in Northern Mindanao.
PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said 15 of the total reported incidents are still undergoing validation, while 42 reports have been validated as not election-related incidents.
She said the PNP helped the Comelec by escorting its personnel and service providers to transport replacement vote-counting machines while police visibility reassured voters that reports of failure of elections are unfounded.
In the information released by the PRO8 in Leyte, the two former policemen allegedly pointed their firearm at a barangay tanod at Barangay Hampangan in Hilongos.
Responding personnel from the Provincial Special Operation Group of the Leyte Police Provincial Office, Provincial Intelligence Unit, and Hilongos Municipal Police Station confiscated from the suspects two caliber .45 pistols without pertinent documents.
In Puntayan town, operatives from Pintuyan Municipal Police Station and Second Southern Leyte Provincial Mobile Force Company arrested the two farmers after they allegedly carried a revolver loaded with six live ammunition, one .45 caliber with two magazines loaded with seven live ammunition and a silencer, and 25 live ammunition rounds without pertinent papers.
The suspects will be facing charges in violation of Republic Act 10591, in relation to Omnibus Election Code.
Overall, she said the polls can be classified as peaceful despite untoward incidents reported in some regions.
But in 2009, Maguindanao was the scene of the country’s deadliest single incident of political violence on record.
Fifty-eight people were massacred as gunmen allegedly working for a local warlord attacked a group of people to stop a rival from filing his election candidacy.